The chosen 2014 TV commercial Spot Fiat 500X Viagra – anuncio de television advertises the new Spot Fiat 500X to potential buyers, with the ad’s setting being a town in Italy. In the beginning, viewers get to see an old man entering the bedroom with his wife laying on the bed and acting in a sexually suggestive manner. The “old geezer” runs into the bathroom to swallow a Viagra pill so that he can satisfy his wife sexually. However, the pill slips out of his hand as he tries throwing it into his mouth, hits the wall, rebounces, and flies through the opened window straight into the gas tank (also opened) of the advertised car.
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As a result, Spot Fiat 500X undergoes a miraculous transformation, in the sense of having its forms bulged up all of a sudden. This transformation clearly refers to the bodily shape of a young man, full of sexual vigor. Through the next few takes of the chosen commercial, viewers are exposed to the sight of a few women walking by the car while expressing their admiration of it in such a manner as if the latter was causing them to experience sexual lust. The narrator’s voice behind the scene announces that Spot Fiat 500X is “ready for action”.
Because of the ad’s content, concerned with appealing to the libidinal anxieties in people, it will be appropriate to discuss its discursive significance within the framework of the self-worth theory of consumer motivation specifically. This theory is based on the assumption that one’s purchasing choices are defined by the person’s “tendency to establish and maintain a positive self-image, or sense of
self-worth” (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002, p. 122). According to the theory’s adherents, people are preoccupied with striving to emphasize the sheer uniqueness of their sense of self-identity, which causes them to think of the “perceptual value” of a particular product as being thoroughly viable (Ligas, 2000). In its turn, the notion of “perceptual value” is an integral element of the concept of “psychological consumption”, which “occur independent of, and in some cases can even trump, physical consumption” (Ariely & Norton, 2009, p. 477). The theory’s foremost axiom that one’s buying choices are essentially irrational. This, however, does not make them less objective, because they reflect the workings of the person’s unconscious psyche, which in turn defines the essence of his rationale-driven reactions to the external stimuli.
Initially, it may appear that the self-worth theory of motivation/consumer behavior supports the provisions of Maslow’s conceptualization of “hierarchy of needs”, according to which the way in which a person seeks self-actualization never ceases to undergo a qualitative transformation as he proceeds with it (Maslow, 1943). After all, the very fact that one finds itself in the position to purchase a car presupposes that he already has his basic needs (in food, clothing, and shelter) fully satisfied.
Such an impression, however, is misleading. The reason for this is apparent: it is not only that the chosen commercial directly targets biological instincts in people, but it also presupposes that a person’s social class or the specifics of his conscious self-positioning have only a minor effect on his behavior as a member of the Homo Sapiens species. Therefore, it will only be logical to apply the provisions of the self-worth theory to the discussed commercial in conjunction with the notion of “subliminal perception”. This notion derives from the idea that there is very little reason to believe that a person’s consumerist stance can be thoroughly rational and concerned with the maximization of utility, in the first place. As Dijksterhuis, Aarts and Smith argued, “Strictly speaking, conscious thought does not exist.
Thought, when defined as producing meaningful associative constructions, happens unconsciously” (p. 81). Rather, it is reflective of people’s preoccupation with trying to attain a dominant status within the society as something that has the value of a “thing in itself”. This simply could not be otherwise. Being nothing but hairless primates, in the biological sense of this word, most people cannot help having their existential agenda serving an essentially biological purpose.
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That is, regardless of what a particular individual thinks of himself, his true purpose in life is to ensure access to nutrients/resources, spread its genome by sexual mating, and succeed in imposing its dominance on others. In this regard, there is indeed very little difference between human society and a pack of apes. The role of socially constructed morality and religion is to merely conceal such an unsightly truth from people (Braun, 2015).
Taking into account all of the above, the actual mechanics of how the Spot Fiat 500X commercial appeals to the targeted consumer-segment, consisting of middle-aged males (as it can be seen in the ad). What the TV ad in question does is triggering the release of sexual hormones (such as testosterone) inside the viewers’ brains. In its turn, this alters the way in which these individuals indulge in the seemingly rational reasoning on whether they should purchase Spot Fiat 500X or not. After having been exposed to this ad, most middle-aged males will assume that such a would-be move, on their part, should indeed increase their sexual attractiveness to women.
The validity of this suggestion is best illustrated regarding the fact that, as neuroscientists are aware of, the human brain is not designed to do abstract thinking per se. Rather, it is designed to help individuals to deal with different challenges, within the context of how the former go about spreading their genes and aspiring for domination. Hence, the phenomenon of academic procrastination: one’s brain naturally resists being switched into the full working mode for as long as it perceives the would-be addressed task as such that has very little to do with advancing the person’s biological agenda. This implies that cognition and emotion are inseparably interconnected and that there is no ontological difference between the two (Storbeck & Clore, 2007).
Alternatively, as soon as the brain recognizes a particular subject matter to be sexually relevant, it automatically switches into the full functioning mode, regardless of whether its “owner” wants it or not. Therefore, there is very little doubt that the discussed TV ad is likely to prove very effective. The reason for this is apparent: the message that it conveys is attuned to how the brain’s limbic system (unconsciousness) assesses threats and opportunities within the surrounding social reality.
The commercial Spot Fiat 500X can be regarded as such that once again proves the soundness of the suggestion “whatever is foolish but works, is not foolish”. After all, the commercial’s actual story can be hardly regarded as such that correlates well with the dialectical type of reasoning, which people are assumed to resort to when it comes to making important decisions. Even the take in which Viagra pill finds its way into the car’s gas tank does not appear to be anything but highly superficial, in the cause-effect sense of this word.
Moreover, the chosen commercial is clearly sexist, because it implies that once triggered, a sexual desire in women causes them to think and act irrationally. Also, there are certain doubts about whether the Spot Fiat 500X TV ad can be deemed even mildly tasteful, because of the commercial’s blatant exploitation of the motif of human sexuality and its stereotypical portrayal of older males as being sexually dysfunctional by definition.
At the same time, however, the director’s decision to make this commercial as sexually explicit as possible appears fully justified, at least if assessed from the commercial perspective. Apparently, its creators were well aware of the fact that, contrary to the postulates of the need-based (or utility-driven) theories of consumer behavior, the latter does not originate in the brain’s neocortex, but rather in its limbic system, responsible for controlling biological instincts in “hairless primates”. Hence, the phenomenon of “impulsive buying” that affects social dynamics in the West to an ever greater extent.
As Dijksterhuis, Smith and Wigboldus (2005) pointed out, “Recent insights on influence tactics and persuasion have emphasized that we often react rather “mindlessly” to stimuli that trigger certain automated responses” (p. 194). Therefore, in order for advertisers to be able to ensure the commercial successfulness of their marketing campaign, they must be capable of designing the latter in the “instinct-friendly” manner (Crano & Prislin, 2006).
The discussed TV commercial exemplifies the full soundness of this suggestion. The reason for this is that it is meant to appeal to the instinctual anxieties in the targeted audience as such that organically derive from of each other, which causes viewers to perceive it as being psychologically plausible, despite the nonsensical nature of the ad’s perceptual and cognitive contents. For example, the miraculous “transfiguration” of the advertised vehicle, seen in the ad, does not only convey the message of sex but also that of domination.
This explains the significance of how the invisible narrator refers to Spot Fiat 500X: bigger, more powerful and ready for action. Evidently enough, this line is consistent with the fact that the more physically imposing a particular man happened to be, the easier will it be for him to win the status of a dominant alpha-male within the patriarchal society. And, the more dominance such a man exercises, the more women will be willing to consider having sex with him. This also explains the significance of the advertised car’s bright red color.
Having been traditionally used to denote “masculine values”, this color helps to ensure the multidimensional integrity of the commercial’s sexual appeal, even though this comes at the expense of undermining the ad’s aesthetic integrity.
Essentially the same can be said about the director’s decision to combine the “appeal to sexuality” advertising technique with the one that is being generally referred to as “appeal to negativity” (Ariely & Norton, 2009). In this regard, one can mention the fact that the Spot Fiat 500X commercial clearly ridicules people of age on account of their presumed inability to have healthy and natural sex with each other. This, however, contributes even further towards increasing the ad’s value as a marketing tool.
The reason for this is that by being exposed to the sight of other people finding themselves in awkward situations, viewers are likely to experience a certain boost to their own sense of sense-worth, even if they do not realize it consciously (Zajonc, 2001). Consequently, this will help targeted consumers to confirm the appropriateness of their domination-seeking aspirations and consequently feel more receptive towards the idea of purchasing Spot Fiat 500X.
In light of the earlier outlined analytical insights into the discussed subject matter, it will be appropriate to conclude this paper by reinstating once again that the objective value of just about any TV commercial positively relates to the measure of this ad’s subliminal integrity. What this means is that, in order for such an ad to prove commercially successful, the message that it conveys must be capable of appealing to consumers on an instinctual (unconscious) level.
The best way to make sure that this is indeed the case is designing a commercial in such a manner that its motifs revolve around the themes of sex and domination, especially if the targeted consumers consist of young and middle-aged people. Another conclusion that naturally derives from what has been said earlier is that the “perceptual value” of an advertised product is essentially a psychological category that has very little to do with this product’s factual subtleties.
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Contrary to what many marketers assume to be the case, there is nothing phenomenological about how such a value comes into being, just as there is nothing overly complex about the main functional principles of the human brain. The author believes that this conclusion is consistent with the line of analytical reasoning, deployed throughout the paper’s entirety.
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